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    60th Anniversary of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to Be Celebrated at UC Berkeley

    Cal Performances at UC Berkeley will welcome back the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—currently celebrating its 60th anniversary—for its annual campus residency. The performances, from April 9–14 in Zellerbach Hall, will feature three works receiving their Bay Area premieres. Members of our San Francisco Bay Times team have been enjoying the Alvin Ailey-Zellerbach pairing for decades. The latter was designed by architect Vernon DeMars and is the West Coast home for the esteemed modern dance company founded by its namesake, who died of complications from HIV/AIDS in 1989.

    The company’s four programs will offer a wide range of choreography, celebrating the rich cultural expression of African Americans, while also engaging with relevant issues of social justice, homelessness and inequality. The three works new to Bay Area audiences are Rennie Harris’ Lazarus, co-commissioned by Cal Performances and inspired by Alvin Ailey’s life and legacy; Ronald K. Brown’s The Call, which seamlessly blends modern and West African dance idioms, as “a love letter to Mr. Ailey”; and Jessica Lang’s celebratory ensemble work EN. The residency also includes Urban Bush Women founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Shelter, which explores the plight of the homeless, and company artistic director Robert Battle’s Ella, a joyful tribute to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. Two matinee performances are devoted to Timeless Ailey, a retrospective program covering 30 years of treasures from Alvin Ailey’s rich body of work that culminates with his iconic Revelations.

    Program A, to be performed on Tuesday, April 9, at 8 pm and Saturday, April 13, at 8 pm, features the Bay Area premiere of hip hop dance pioneer Harris’ Lazarus (2018). The work is the company’s first two-act ballet and was a 2018 recipient of the New England Foundation for the Arts prestigious National Dance Project grant. With Lazarus, which has a score by Darrin Ross, Harris addresses the racial inequities America faced when Ailey founded this company in 1958 and still faces today. True to tradition, the program closes with Revelations, Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece celebrating the African-American experience.

    Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green. Photo by Andrew Eccles

    Program B, to be performed on Wednesday, April 10¬, at 8 pm and Friday, April 12, at 8 pm, includes four works. British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s Kairos (2014) is set to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, as re-imagined by composer Max Richter, and uses walls to create a starkly dramatic onstage world—a counterpoint to McGregor’s sinuous, angular movement. Ailey is the first American company to perform this work, which garnered rave reviews at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015.

    Zollar’s Shelter (1988), first performed by the Ailey company in 1992, explores the emotional trauma of homelessness. Danced by an all-female cast, the work features a music score with drumming by Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn and poetry by Hattie Gossett and Laurie Carlos. Artistic director Battle’s Ella (2008), a joyful tribute to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, was first created as a solo in 2008, and re-invented as a duet in honor of Fitzgerald’s centennial in 2017. The work is set to a recording of a live Fitzgerald performance of the jazz standard “Airmail Special.” Also on the program, Lang makes her choreographic debut with the Ailey company with EN (2018), receiving its Bay Area premiere. “En” is a Japanese word with multiple meanings—including “circle,” “destiny” or “fate”—and the theme of the work, which is set to an original score by Jakub Ciupinski, is about coming full circle.

    Program C, performed Thursday, April 11, at 8 pm, features Members Don’t Get Weary (2017) by veteran Ailey company member Jamar Roberts, who is well-known for his commanding presence as a dancer. Set to two contrasting recordings by John Coltrane (“Dear Lord” and “Olé”), Roberts’ first choreographic work for the company revels in the emotional urgency and transcendence of the blues. Receiving its Bay Area premiere, Brown’s acclaimed The Call (2018) weaves modern dance and West African forms in a joyous, spiritual work danced to works by J.S. Bach, Mary Lou Williams, and Asase Yaa Entertainment Group. The program continues with Robert Battle’s Juba (2003), an explosive work for three men and one woman with an original score for string quartet and percussion by John Mackey. Ailey’s Revelations concludes the program.

    Program D, performed at the matinees on Saturday, April 13, at 2 pm and Sunday, April 14 at 3 pm, is dedicated to Timeless Ailey (1958–1986), a special program comprised of highlights from ballets choreographed by Ailey, including some seldom-seen gems. The program features excerpts from 1974’s Night Creature (music by Duke Ellington); 1972’s The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams); 1958’s Blues Suite (Brother John Sellers); 1971’s Cry (Voices of East Harlem); 1972’s Love Songs (Donny Hathaway); and 1979’s Memoria (Keith Jarrett), along with several other works. The historical program concludes with Ailey’s classic Revelations, performed in its entirety at both performances.

    Residency Activities

    A number of residency activities are planned on the UC Berkeley campus as part of the company’s visit. For the fourth year, company dancers will host a series of “Berkeley Dances Revelations” workshops, during which the public is invited to learn choreography from Ailey’s iconic Revelations. The free 30-minute workshops will take place in the Hearst Gymnasium on Friday, April 12, at 10 am, 10:45 am, and 11:30 am; registration is required ( ). Following the workshops, everyone is invited to Lower Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus for a “Berkeley Dances Revelations” Flash Mob at 12:30 pm. Members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will lead this public performance of the “Wade in the Water” section from Ailey’s Revelations. The event is free and open to the public.
    A community dance class with members of the company is planned in the Bancroft Studio on Sunday, April 14, at 11 am. The class, open to participants of all ages and abilities, includes technique and choreographic excerpts from the company’s current repertory. Admission is $10 per person, and pre-registration required.

    Two matinee performances by the company are also offered to area K–12 schoolchildren as part of the Cal Performances SchoolTime series, on Wednesday and Thursday, April 10–11 at 11 am. Pre-registration and ticket purchase is required.

    Ticket Information

    Tickets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on Tuesday–Friday, April 9¬–12 at 8 pm; Saturday, April 13, at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday, April 14, at 3 pm in Zellerbach Hall range from $38–$145 (prices subject to change). Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. Tickets are available through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, at (510) 642-9988, at the website ( ) and at the door. For more information about discounts, go to


    Alvin Ailey’s Legacy in Dance

    Alvin Ailey was born on January 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas. His experiences of life in the rural South would later inspire some of his most memorable works. He was introduced to dance in Los Angeles by performances of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, and his formal dance training began with an introduction to Lester Horton’s classes by his friend Carmen de Lavallade.

    Horton, the founder of one of the first racially-integrated dance companies in the United States, became a mentor for Ailey as he embarked on his professional career. After Horton’s death in 1953, Ailey became director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater and began to choreograph his own works. In the 1950s and 1960s, Ailey performed in four Broadway shows, including House of Flowers and Jamaica

    In 1958, he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to carry out his vision of a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. He established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center (now The Ailey School) in 1969 and formed the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble (now Ailey II) in 1974. Ailey was a pioneer of programs promoting arts in education, particularly those benefiting underserved communities.

    Throughout his lifetime, he was awarded numerous distinctions, including the Kennedy Center Honor in 1988 in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to American culture. In 2014, he posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of his contributions and commitment to civil rights and dance in America. 

    When Ailey died on December 1, 1989, The New York Times said of him, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm, and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”


    AileyCamp is a nationally acclaimed summer program that uses dance as a vehicle for developing self-esteem, creative expression and critical thinking skills among sixth, seventh and eighth grade students ages 11–14. Conceived by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and run locally by Cal Performances, AileyCamp combines professional level dance training with personal development activities. 

    Over the course of the past decade, AileyCamp has changed the lives of more than 1,000 Bay Area young people. There have been 2,597 applicants, 2,113 interviews, and camp has been served by 300 volunteers (about 30 are needed per year). About 25,700 people have attended the final performances of the last 18 camps. 

    Since its inception in 1989, this vital program has reached thousands of youth across the country, providing direction and hope to children who are most in–need of knowing there can be a bright future. There are currently ten AileyCamps across the U.S.: Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Berkeley, CA; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, KS; Miami, FL; Newark, NJ; Seattle, WA; and Washington Heights, NY. 

    Daily Affirmations

    Each day, one camper is selected to lead the entire group in the daily AileyCamp affirmations. This is a tradition that extends to all AileyCamps across the country. These encouraging words are: 

    1. I will greet this day with love in my heart. 

    2. I am a winner. 

    3. I am in control. 

    4. I think before I act. 

    5. I will listen to learn. 

    6. I will pay attention with my mind, body and spirit. 

    7. I will treat others with courtesy and respect at all times. 

    8. I will treat others as I would like to be treated. 

    9. I will keep a positive attitude all day, every day. 

    10. I will not use the word “can’t” to define my possibilities. 

    For more information:


    Timeline of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

    The following are just some of the numerous achievements of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

    1958: Alvin Ailey and a group of young black modern dancers performed for the first time as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York’s 92nd Street YW-YMHA.

    1958–1960: The company traveled on what Ailey called “the station wagon tours.”

    1960: Ailey choreographed his masterpiece Revelations, which brought the company international acclaim.

    1965: Judith Jamison danced with the company for the first time. She would become one of the most recognized and lauded members of the company during her 15-year career as a dancer.

    1966: Ailey choreographed Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.

    1968: The company received its first grant from Rockefeller Foundation and performed at the White House for President Johnson.

    1970: The company and school relocated to Manhattan to share a renovated church building with choreographer Pearl Lang. The company also had a six-week tour of the Soviet Union, a first for an American modern dance company since the days of Isadora Duncan.

    1971: The company appeared for the first time at New York City Center and took part in the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

    1972: Ailey choreographed Carmen for the Metropolitan Opera.

    1975: The company performed at the Duke Ellington Festival at Lincoln Center with the Ellington Orchestra.

    1976: Ailey choreographed Pas de Duke for Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov, who received the keys to New York City.

    1977: The company performed at Jimmy Carter’s inaugural gala.

    1980: The company, Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble and Alvin Ailey American Dance Center relocated to four new studios built to their specifications in a building on Broadway.

    1983: The company celebrated its 25th anniversary.

    1985: The company is the first modern dance troupe to go on a U.S. government-sponsored tour of the People’s Republic of China since normalization of Sino-American relations.

    1988: Ailey received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts.

    1989: Ailey chose Jamison to be his successor as the company’s artistic director. He died in December at the age of 58.

    1992: The company performed for the first time at the Paris Opera.

    1993: The company performed at a televised inaugural gala for President Bill Clinton.

    1995: Jamison received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts.

    1997: The company held an historic residency in South Africa, signaling an end to the long cultural boycott of the old apartheid regime.

    1999: Jamison won an Emmy Award in the category of outstanding choreography for work on hourlong PBS Great Performances documentary, A Hymn for Alvin Ailey.

    2001: The Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation announced plans for construction of a new dance complex, which would become the largest in the country dedicated exclusively to dance.

    2002: President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush awarded the National Medal of Arts to both Jamison and the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation.

    2004: The U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class postage stamp honoring Ailey as part of the American Choreographers stamp series. Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation opened the Joan Weill Center for Dance, the company’s first permanent home, in Manhattan.

    2005: The company returned to Russia after a 15-year absence as the only American troupe to perform in the Stars of the White Nights Festival. The company made its first-ever tour of the U.K.

    2008: The company began to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

    2010: First Lady Michelle Obama honored Jamison at The White House Dance Series: A Tribute to Judith Jamison.

    2011: During Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 2011 International Tour, Jamison passed the mantle of Artistic Director to Robert Battle on July 1. He became only the third person in the company’s history to hold that position.

    2012: The Ailey Legacy Residency—a lecture, technique and repertory program for college-level students—launched.

    2013: The company visited Brazil and Argentina, and had a record-breaking five-week engagement at New York City Center.

    2014: Battle visited the White House to accept from President Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    2015: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater made an historic return to South Africa after nearly 20 years. The company also made its national cinema debut as part of “Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance.”

    2016: Jamison’s contributions to dance were celebrated at a White House Black History Month event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama.

    2017: Alvin Ailey Foundation opened The Elaine Wynn & Family Education Wing, a 10,000-square-foot expansion of Ailey’s permanent home, The Joan Weill Center for Dance, which is New York City’s largest building dedicated to dance.

    2018: Ailey II was performed at the opening ceremony of the National Museum for Peace and Justice, the nation’s first comprehensive memorial dedicated to racial terror lynchings of African-Americans and the legacy of slavery and racial inequality in America.

    2019: Alvin Ailey Dance Theater continues celebrating its 60th anniversary, with a series of performances scheduled in April at the company’s West Coast home: Cal Performances at UC Berkeley.  

    For more information: